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Despite years of haggling, the number of issues that will need to be resolved during the final round of hearings has actually grown.

Debate, negotiations over Big Tupper resort leaves parties polarized

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After years of public review, town hall meetings, mediation sessions and negotiations, the Adirondack Club and Resort project is entering its final phase.

An adjudicatory hearing will begin soon, possibly as early as next month, overseen by administrative law judge Daniel O'Connell.

When that hearing is finished, the Adirondack Park Agency will have sixty days to vote on whether the 600-unit resort should be given a permit or not.

But as Brian Mann reports, the various factions taking part in the hearing are still as deeply divided over key issues as they were half a decade ago.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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Ask Michael Foxman about the resort and second home development he’s been hoping to build on the slopes and forests around Big Tupper and he’ll tell you the design has been tweaked and adjusted and scaled back and is basically ready to go.

"I don’t think there are any questions on the table," he said.  "Other than those that the opponents raise reflexively."

That view is shared by Jim LaValley a realtor in Tupper Lake and founder of the group ARISE, which formed to support this project.

He says the resort is well designed and will serve as a much-needed boost for his town’s economy.

"And I remain very optimistic that this project will be hitting the market at just the right time," LaValley said.

But lengthy negotiations and closed door mediation sessions, and some signals last year that green groups might be willing to accept the project, environmental leaders now say it needs dramatic restructuring.

John Caffrey is an attorney in Glens Falls who sits on the board of Protect the Adirondacks.  He’ll serve as counsel for the group during the upcoming hearings.

"It’s not close and based on what we’ve seen so far, the chances of the applicant ever agreeing to anything that we feel would be acceptible and would be consistent with the Adirondack Park Agency Act are extremely low," Caffrey said.

The Adirondack Council, meanwhile, says it supports the resort project in theory, but not in anything like its current form.  

"This is a very large, very far-flung project," said spokesman John Sheehan, "that in its current form consuming too much land and likely to cause too much water pollution."

Despite years of haggling, the number of issues that will need to be resolved during the final round of hearings has actually grown from ten officially-designated areas of concern to twelve. 

 Only one issue has been settled conclusively – and that’s the impact of a proposed shooting range, which the developer agreed to scrap completely.

The laundry list of major issues that remain include design of the sewage treatment system and plans for a housing developments on the slopes of Big Tupper.

Green groups are still particularly unhappy with Michael Foxman’s plan to begin the project by building great camp mansions set on large-acre lots.  

"Plans for the so-called great camp lots would have to be substantially changed to make it a true clustering of the lots, rather than 25-acre lots and 100-acre lots," Caffrey argued.

But Michael Foxman says those mansions are the economic cornerstone of the entire project and will generate revenue that will fuel the rest of the resort.

"It's one of the reasons the great camps are so important," he said.  "We don't have to get bonds to get them in a position to sell them.  That's why I've always said that the great camps are such an important source of early financing."

The tone of this conversation has also grown more rancorous.  Jim LaValley, with the group ARISE, says green groups are simply meddling in Tupper Lake’s future, without thought to the community’s economy.

 "The environmental groups, the individuals who are again opposed either partially or in whole, to be honest with you need to be ashamed at the tactics they're using right now to keep this project from moving on a timely schedule," he argued.

Meanwhile, John Sheehan with the Adirondack Council accuses the developers of foot-dragging and a refusal to negotiate toward serious compromise.

"We haven't seen the developer move in that direction very far," Sheehan said.

"We're hoping he's either playing possum and plans to do that in the future or somehow gets the message in the near future that the project as it's currently designed can't meet the standards that the Health Department, the Department of Environtal Conservation, and the Adirondack Park Agency have."

 

Relations are so tense – and the parties so deeply divided on central issues — that all sides expect the decision by the Park Agency to be followed by lawsuits. 

One wrinkle here is that all sides are lavishing praise on the Adirondack Park Agency and its staff.  Green groups and supporters of the development say the APA has handled its review of project fairly. 

"The Adirondack Park Agency has been nothing but professional with this project," LaValley said.  "They've been very clear with what the steps are.  Their rules are laid out so the applicant knows what they are."

But the two sides seem so far apart on this project that it appears the Park Agency will eventually have to make someone very unhappy, either by giving the Big Tupper resort the green light or by sending it back to the drawing board.

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